tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera February 13, 2015 5:00pm-5:31pm EST
where science meets humanity. >> this is some of the best driving i've every done, even though i can't see. >> tech know. >> we're here in the vortex. >> monday, 5:30 eastern. only on al jazeera america. >> the us is now the world's largest oil and gas producer in part because of what's happening here in north dakota where advances in fracking have unlocked crude oil in the bakken shale formation in the western part of the state. north dakota is now producing more than a million barrels of oil a day. ten years ago there were fewer than 200 oil-producing wells in the bakken. now there are more than 8,000. >> they call it boomtown usa this is where all the money is. it's crazy the amount of money you can make here. >> this rapid pace of
development and the flood of workers coming here, has given north dakota the lowest unemployment rate in the us. but it's also raised questions over the dangers of working in the oil fields. >> the more jobs you complete, the more money you make. the faster you complete them the faster you can get to the next job. let's say i mean you take your time. if you be safe you are not i bet you could cut your pay in half. >> fault lines spent six months investigating some of the risks in north dakota's oil fields and uncovered a dark side to the boom. >> a lot of these workers come to north dakota, get chewed up and go home to recover. i get calls from attorneys in other states all asking the same question. what in the hell is going on up there? >> thousands of people from all over the country have been leaving home to seek work in the bakken.
one of them was a former marine from hazel green alabama. >> we're in northern alabama to meet the family of dustin payne who after serving two tours in the marines found a job as a welder in north dakota. >> hi scotty? >> how are you doing sir? >> i'm josh rushing with fault lines. how are you? >> pretty good man y'all come on? >> thank you very much >> i was so proud of him when he joined the marines. i was very proud. >> it's interesting to see this kid and then that picture. >> i imagine you guys must have been scared when he deployed to war, twice. >> i was scared but you know when he came home from the wars and he was fine. i kinda quit worrying about him. >> like i knew going to nd that there were some dangers >> nothing like that... >> i never expected it though. i was more worried about him when he was overseas than i was when he was in north dakota >> with a limited background in welding twenty-eight-year-old dustin payne got a job as a welder for
a pipeline construction outfit. after seven months he was offered a higher paying job welding for a much larger company, nabors completion and production services a subsidiary of nabors industries. but a month into the job with nabors dustin began raising red flags. >> so this is his phone? >> this is his phone. >> this is a text from dustin to his girlfriend that says "i'm going to be here all night. that's even if i can weld it." and he says, "i'm literally going to be welding something that is full of oil. very dangerous." to which jessica responds, "maybe you should say something." and dustin responds back that he did say something... and jessica responds "yeah, that could kill you." >> i'm sure it made everybody mad, but he wasn't going to put his life in danger. >> while working in north dakota dustin met jessica summers the woman he planned to marry. >> he would make comments about
how he never thought about proposing to a girl, or he knew nothing about diamonds or rings. one day he said you know it's all about the clarity and the cut. and i thought wow >> oh man he's a big ol softie for that ol lady i tell you he was. yeah. he loved that woman unconditionally. >> after serving two tours of duty with dustin dj allred followed his friend to north dakota to find work. >> one good thing about the oil field is you don't need a lot of experience. like i didn't know anything about the oil fields before i came it was, can you work hard, yeah you're hired. >> dustin and dj were roommates and often talked about the challenges of their jobs in the bakken. one night dustin told dj that he was thinking of leaving nabors. >> i had a pretty rough day and it was it was a tough one it a lot of things went wrong. i was actually talking to him about quitting. and he brought it up and he was like oh i'm thinking about quitting, too. and next day he had his
accident. >> on october the third last year dustin was welding on a tanker in the nabors yard when it exploded. he was rushed to hospital and pronounced dead five days later. he was the third nabors industries employee to die on the job in the bakken since 2010. >> on this backside here you're about to see where dustin had his accident. >> after he died dustin's family learned that he had been asked to weld on a salt-water tanker. saltwater is a byproduct of the fracking process and can contain hydro-carbons, gases and other explosive chemicals. the american petroleum institute guidelines recommend a strict safety protocol before a tank is welded on. >> and you can see on the pictures from the explosion clear as day that all of those thief hatches are closed. >> the explosion was so bad that dustin's pick up was parked about 25 feet away it blew out all the seals on his doors, it blew out the sunroof on the truck. >> investigator ross rolshoven
was hired by dustin's family's attorney to look into the accident. >> in dustin's case, the top thief hatch was not open. so there was no natural draft ventilating through the top of the tank. >> look at this. >> oh man i didn't see that. you can still smell it up in here. >> you think it would still test hot? >> i believe so. >> i wonder if that's the area where in the area he was working >> yeah >> what happened to dustin was unfortunately very avoidable. the truck should have been put outside for 24 hoursyou check for flammable gases and do that type of thing. and if it doesn't pass at that point, you let it sit outside for another 24 hours. >> kinda surprised to see it still sitting here. >> they probably just forgot and moved on about it, i mean hell the caution tape ain't even up. it's still just ragged ranked and ripped. just someone to replace. >> like where along the lines did somebody screw up trickle
down to dustin and now he's gone. >> we're headed to nabors to try to find out in dustin's case it seems like basic safety regulations weren't followed. why was he asked to weld on a tanker that was still explosive. so that was a deadend we're told that there's no management here that we can speak to. we're back on the chase again with the headquarters in houston to see if we can find someone there that will talk to us. >> good morning nabors >> hi good morning. my name is josh rushing i'm calling from a show called fault lines. i'm up in williston north dakota. >> over the course of two months fault lines repeatedly tried to contact nabors about their safety record and what happened to dustin. our requests for an interview declined. the data varies, but dustin payne was one of at
least forty oil and gas industry workers who died on the job in north dakota in the last four years. his death is currently being investigated by osha. >> 40 guys have died out there since 2011. all sorts of accidents. we're looking for accountability. what part of that accountability lies with you and in your office? >> with me and with osha. you know like i said in the coldest terms, our responsibility is to enforce the safety regulations. >> eric brooks is the area director for osha, the occupational safety and health administration. it's the federal agency charged with enforcing health and safety in the workplace. osha only has nine fulltime compliance officers for north dakota and according to some estimates it would take decades for osha to inspect every workplace in the state. >> while we have 9 people assigned to this area's office we have the collective of osha's resources that we draw upon in order to make sure that we can improve and effectively enforce osha's standards. >> i've never seen osha come out
>> wait, you've never seen osha at a site in four years? >> no >> everybody knows about osha. and eh but everyone just does the bare minimum to get by you know. >> john was a friend of dustin payne's. john's not his real name. he asked us not to use that. he told us he worked in the oil fields in north dakota for four years and has been on hundreds of well sites. >> when things that happen like what happened to your friend dustin does it make you step back and kind of ugh decide how long you want to do this? >> yeah i mean you think about longevity, you look at all the all these safety violations and your just it just when is it going to happen to me >> watch more "faultlines"
>> oilfield work is some of the most dangerous in the country. osha tries to mitigate some of that danger by regulating worker safety issues. but there are surprising aspects of the industry that remain unregulated. >> and what do you do? >> wireline. >> what so what does wireline mean? >> well wirelines, we lower explosives underground to predetermine depths >> wireliners lower explosives thousands of feet into the ground as the first step in the fracking process. >> all these companies are using explosives right. >> wireline, yes. >> is there any kind of general requirements for that? >> there's no doctrinal training if that's where you're getting at. >> yeah >> no. there's no doctrinal training. >> to deal with explosives? major explosives. >> no, you'll go, it's basically just prac app you know just going out to the field
and me teaching you, you know just hey this wire to this wire. >> workers like john are paid between one and two percent of the fee given to their employer to frac a well so the faster they work, the more money they make. >> i work a twenty and ten twenty days on and ten days off. the longest i've ever been out on a job site is 69 hour straight. >> sixty-nine hours straight! that sounds like it could be dangerous? >> yeah, definitely. >> it's a ticking time bomb really. something could have easily happened all the times i've fell asleep in the crane while running it. or let's just say i fall asleep and my hand hits some of the sticks and let's just say i lower the 6,000 pound load right on the top of someone's head, you know there's so many things that can happen.
>> do you regulate how many hours someone can work? >> osha does not. osha doesn't have hourly work limitations. osha does not. >> that's a huge safety issue that doesn't fall under... >> it doesn't fall under us, unfortunately we don't have regulations that say once you work x amount of hours you have to have x amount of hours off there is a lot of things that i can do and there is a lot of things i can highly recommend. >> any new osha regulations are devised at the national level in washington dc, with input from interest groups. so, even if there were a will to impose more regulations, they could take years to implement >> is it out of control? >> yeah i would say i mean the problem is it's pretty hard to complain about the hours you work when you're making that kind of money. i mean you got people coming up here young, starting out making a hundred thousand a year or you can be like myself who makes 200,000 a year and so it makes it really hard to complain to
management that you're working too many hours when there are a lot of people that would love to be in my position. >> the breakneck pace of production in the bakken is so great that employees are often not given the most basic information about the hazards they're exposed to. brothers jeremy dagget and brandon belk worked for a company called badlands power fuels cleaning the inside of frac tanks for around 20 dollars an hour. >> do you know what chemicals have been in that tank? or are you just jumping in and taking a guess? >> no, you're just jumping in. you've got no clue. there should be a msda sheet for every tank that you jump into, a material safety data sheet which lets you know which chemical is in there and what you gotta do if you're exposed to the chemical. none of those were ever provided. >> what could be in a tank. you're at a place like power fuels, and they're like go clean that tank. what are some of the common things that can be in a tank like that? >> you know, it could be used for storage of
oil, it could be used for storage of fresh water. it could be used for storage of salt water i mean the things that it could be are probably a dozen or more. >> and of all those things how many of them wouldn't be bad for you to go in and breath? >> i would say clean water. and that would be the only one. i would not go into one of those tanks without a respirator absolutely not. >> jeremy says that he and his brother brandon asked for respirators from the safety office but were never provided with any. >> i went in one day and had a safety concern as far as washing tanks that had flow back in them. flow backs is all the stuff that comes out of the earth when you're fracking. so i said all this stuff is radio active. it's probably cancer causing. you know. and then he was like do you smoke or do you chew? and i was like yeah i chew. well that's more cancer causing than cleaning tanks are. >> on july 3rd 2013 brandon took
jeremy's place cleaning the inside of a tank and let jeremy take the easier job of going on a dispatch call. >> i went on the dispatch >> why did he take your spot? >> because he's a big brother. he'd do whatever he could to help me out in any way. and that's what he was doing that day. when brandon came out of the tank 30 minutes later, jeremy told us his brother vomited and passed out. his co- workers suffered respiratory problems and skin and eye irritation. >> the next day, it's fourth of july. i got off work and we're all hanging out in the field lighting off fireworks and everything like that and i seen him and his face was swollen and his eyes were all puffy his throat was bleeding. he'd take napkins and he's go like this, pull it out and there would be blood on the end of it.
that night brandon went to the emergency room. the medical report from that evening states that he had pneumonia and a white area inside his mouth that appeared to be peeling. and my brother went home and he put on facebook that he was scared to go to sleep. and he didn't wake up the next day. brandon's autopsy report found that he had non-toxic doses of methadone and an anti-depressant in his system. it attributed his death to a combination of a drug overdose and pneumonia. despite the autopsy report brandon's family believes that his death was work-related. >> what do you think killed him? >> i think it was the chemicals. i've never seen anybody's throat swell up or their whole entire face swell up the way that his did. >> osha issued the company a citation for failing to test the space for hazardous atmospheric conditions and another for failing to train their employees. >> the company wasn't doing atmospheric testing. this is the very beginning of the safety program especially
with regards to confined space. you gotta know what you're doing. you gotta know what's in there. the company was issued $17000 in fines for multiple violations. fines like these are one way that osha tries to keep companies in check across the bakken. >> what's the purpose of the fine? >> well the purpose of the fine is to be a necessary deterrent effect. in its crudest and most blatant terms it's to try to have a punitive effect on the employer. >> you know its really important to talk about dollar amount. because there is really no dollar amount that is worth the loss of a person's life. if it's a high gravity violation our statutory maximum is $7,000. >> but $7,000 isn't enough to have a punitive effect on employers that are making as much money as they are. >> i would agree with you. many of them many of them $7000 doesn't seem like a lot. i really hope, for most employers out there it's certainly not the threat of an osha fine that drives your safety program. >> if you know that you're not giving your employees proper protective equipment proper training, proper knowledge on what they're doing,
and you've been told that you're not, and you continue not doing it, when somebody passes away, you should be held responsible for that. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines. >> start with one issue. add guests from all sides of the debate and a host willing to ask the tough questions and you'll get the inside story. >> ray suarez hosts "inside story". weeknights at 11:30 eastern. only on al jazeera america.
>> fatalities are the worst of what can happen in the oil fields but there have been thousands of injuries. between 2009 and 2013 north dakota's workforce safety and insurance agency known as wsi received more than 9000 claims from oil industry workers. >> the consequences for serious life changing injuries and death are so minimal that it provides no incentive at all for these oil companies to clean up their act. >> steve little is an attorney in bismarck, north dakota who specializes in wsi cases. >> workers compensation not just in north dakota but everywhere was created to prevent employees
from suing their employers. and in exchange the employee was supposed to get what's called sure and certain relief. that i think is where the bargain has been broken, frankly. >> alright josh, if you grab that box and i'll get the worms. >> yeah, i got it. one of steve little's cases involved dennis whedbee who was injured in the bakken when there was a well-blow-out on an oilrig. >> you can get it out there, right in front out there. >> right there. >> can you describe what you remember? >> i remember pain - it was the worst pain i ever felt, and the whole time i was in hospital i was always in pain. i'm still in pain now phantom pains now. >> without a job dennis was forced to move back to pennsylvania to begin adjusting to life with one hand. his local doctor told him he would be a good candidate for something called a myoelectric prosthesis. >> i was really excited about it 'cause the founder of this hand has the same amputation as me >> what's he able to do with it? >> oh, you can tie your shoe, you can crack an egg
you can roll a dice, you can pour with it. >> the prosthesis that dennis wanted cost 70 thousand dollars. he filed a claim for it with wsi. companies pay premiums to wsi and this pool of money is used to compensate injured workers. >> they sent me to minneapolis. flew me out there, i talked to.... about 15mn i talked to this doctor 15 minutes. in spite of what dennis' local doctor recommended the wsi appointed doctor determined that dennis was not a good fit for the prosthetic arm that he wanted. >> i don't understand it. i don't. i didn't lose a hook. i lost a hand. i want a bionic hand >> whedbee appealed the wsi decision to north dakota's supreme court but the court ruled in favor of wsi. >> if you have an injured worker and you have a myoelectric arm or a hook that you can offer is it about the money? >> yeah some--part of it has to do with cost. >> bryan klipfel is the director of wsi in north dakota. >> the other part is
is this is this going to benefit the injured worker in the job that they're going to i mean? >> but there's no one in the world that would ever argue that a hook would benefit a man better than a robotic arm. i mean unless, can you make that argument? cause i >> no, i don't think you can but what i'm saying with the mioelectric arm if you are going back to so a job where you have dust and manufacturing environment i think then it would probably will not work as well as the hook will. >> so do you ever return the money to the companies >> if we've had a better rate of return on our investments then we do give back a premium dividend to our employers. >> we've found something on the website, i just want to make sure this is factual. maybe you can read that and tell me. >> that's correct. >> that is correct? a hundred and seventy-four million went back to companies between 2005, 2013? >> uh, if you look at you know from 2005 it's probably been about
$750 million. >> to go back to the companies? >> yep. >> whose interest is wsi actually serving? >> i think if you're a large employer if you're a politically connected employer wsi is a good deal. >> one of the things i want to understand in this story is who is accountable? >> the governor is statutorily in charge of workers compensation in north dakota. >> it is now with great pride that i have the honor to introduce all of you to the governor of the great state of north dakota - the honorable jack dalrymple >> the governor is also chairman of the industrial commission which can influence the pace of oil and gas development in the state through its permitting process. >> i think legislators and the governor's office and the regulators are being influenced by oil money you bet. >> we should all be proud of the vital role our state is playing
to help america strengthen its energy independence. >> fault lines requested an interview with the governor several times with no success, so we've come to the capitol in bismarck to ask him about worker safety in the oil fields. >> hi governor sorry to interrupt, i've come from washington dc and i was wondering if i could ask you a few questions. i host a show called fault lines >> you what? >> i host a show called fault lines. >> fault lines? >> and we've been out in the bakken and i was curious why you didn't bring up worker safety in your speech today and why you haven't done more. 40 guys have died out there in the last four years. >> well we have to begin a receiving line right now so i'm not going to have time to go into that with you. >> but you can answer a question about that right? >> we have answers that we can provide >> i mean 40 people have died out there that's something that you could answer right? it's gotta be important to you
right? worker safety in the bakken. i mean at least for their families to tell them that you're interested. >> i gave the governor a chance to answer one question about worker safety in the bakken, he wouldn't do it >> the oil industry was the largest contributor to governor dalrymple in his 2012 gubernatorial race. >> you think about one but forty my god. it's terrible. >> and for what? >> so they can make more money. >> more money name of the game. >> less than six weeks after dustin was buried, another nabors industries employee died on the job in north dakota.
>> i just don't understand it continuing to happen. like how many people's got to lose their life for someone to finally open their eyes okay we're doing something wrong here let's make it right. it's all about profit. >> if jobs are going to keep producing as fast as they are and money's just flying in you know as fast as it is. it's going to stay this way. there's no way people are going to slow things down. they keep drilling wells and keep adding on more rigs and oils producing and moneys a flying nothings going to happen no way. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines. >> america's first climate refugees >> this is probably a hurricane away from it being gone. >> who's to blame? >> 36% of land lost was caused by oil and gas industry... >> ...and a fight to save america's coastline.
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